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Boca Chita Key ornamental lighthouse in Biscayne National Park

Florida

On and Under the Water in Biscayne National Park

By: Claire Volkman

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  • States:
    Florida

The only national park in the USA that’s 95 percent underwater, Biscayne National Park in Florida is a wonderland of aquatic wildlife, colorful coral reefs and historic shipwrecks.

Biscayne also is home to amazing one-of-a-kind heritage sights above the water, too, including protected islands, mangrove swamps and a historic lighthouse.

Protecting Four Ecosystems

Even with many highlights of the park located a short drive or boat ride southwest of downtown Miami, Biscayne National Park feels like a world away. The 70,000-hectare park protects four distinct ecosystems: the shoreline mangrove forest, the southern part of Biscayne Bay, the northernmost islands of the Florida Keys and the offshore coral reef. Biscayne National Park also invites visitors to learn about 10,000 years of human history through the exploration of islands, pirate strongholds and shipwrecks, such as those of the Mandalay, whose remains have been underwater since 1966. 

Mangrove forest lining the shoreline at Biscayne National Park

Mangrove forest lining the shoreline at Biscayne National Park
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Exploring By Boat or By Land

Perhaps the best way to experience Biscayne National Park is by boat. Miami Ocean Rafting is one of the few boating companies licensed to explore the national park. The company’s captains can take you to the incredible Mandalay shipwreck, Boca Chita Island and the Boca Chita lighthouse. If you don’t want to visit by boat, the Dante Fascell Visitor Center at Convoy Point offers an overview of the park, complete with exhibits and educational opportunities, as well as a .4-kilometer jetty hiking trail.

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Highlights of the Park

Although they only make up 5 percent of the entire park, the islands and keys of Biscayne National Park are worth exploring. One of the most popular islands is Boca Chita Key. The key’s lighthouse, which has been around since the 1930s, is the main attraction and provides breathtaking views. There are also beaches, a campground and a hiking trail to enjoy. Smaller Elliott and Adams keys are also home to hiking trails, picnic tables and stunning harbors.

One interesting part of the park accessible only by water is Stiltsville, a collection of buildings on stilts in the bay. There were 27 buildings in 1960, but time and weather brought that number to seven.

One of the structures in historic Stiltsville in Biscayne Bay

One of the structures in historic Stiltsville in Biscayne Bay
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